Flying into a local airport is an option, but the five-hour drive from Stockholm to PM & Vänner, past endless woods on mostly deserted two-lane roads, deepens appreciation of the restaurant’s remoteness. You sigh with relief when you arrive at the 74-room boutique hotel in southern Sweden that houses a 50-seat bistro and 38-seat fine-dining restaurant.
“It’s a gastro-hotel,” says Per Bengtsson, 50, co-founder of the business. “The food and wine are the soul of the house, but the hotel is essential to draw clients from far away.”
The son of a local farmer, Bengtsson grew up hunting and fishing. Working the 1990 harvest at Bordeaux’s Château Giscours and doing a stint cooking at a restaurant in Margaux, Bengtsson developed a passion for collecting the best wines in the world and making a career in hospitality.
In 1992, Bengtsson and his friend Monica Carlsson, now 48, pulled together their savings to finance the opening of a bistro in Växjö, their hometown. They named it PM & Vänner for their initials and in honor of the many friends (vänner) whose patronage helped launch the venture. A few years ago, they bought and gutted an office building in the center of town, reopening the property as a hotel in May 2014. The accommodations include a heated rooftop lap pool, sauna, Jacuzzi and glass-walled bar with a fireplace and Steinway piano. PM & Vänner also boasts a bakery and a flower shop.
The jewel of the place, however, is Bengtsson’s wine collection—some 19,000 bottles aging in the hotel’s temperature-controlled high-security cellar.
Aficionados come from Copenhagen (a two-and-a-half-hour train ride), Stockholm (an hour by plane), Switzerland and beyond, often lured by competitively priced collectibles on the 4,200-bottle list.
“Why should they come here to Småland, our remote province?” asks Bengtsson. “Sure, we have good wine, good food and a nice hotel. But they wouldn’t come here if we had the same prices as at Tour d’Argent.”
The 297-page leather-bound wine list demonstrates good depth and exceptional breadth. Bengtsson and head sommelier Rubén Sanz Ramiro, formerly of Veritas in New York, a Grand Award winner in its day, are big on Austrian wines (Knoll, F.X. Pichler, Prager), which they believe fit well with the Nordic cuisine. But classics from Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhône also abound—for example, nine vintages of E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Landonne ($600 for the 1998) and 17 of Château Mouton-Rothschild ($1,500 for the 1982).
Philosophically, the one-star Michelin kitchen belongs to the back-to-the-roots, into-the-woods movement of Scandinavian cuisine epitomized by world-renowned Noma and Geranium (which earned its first Grand Award in 2016), both in Copenhagen. The cuisine of PM & Vänner’s Norwegian chef, Anders Lauring, derives its originality from the diverse foodstuffs sourced from nearby woods, lakes and meadows. However, PM & Vänner plays it safer than some of its Nordic peers for the sake of producing harmonious wine-and-food pairings.
“It’s hard to match Pétrus with raw or macerated lichen,” Bengtsson quips.
In the serene ground-floor dining room, cozy and plush, maître d’ Ulrika Bohman placed a fist-size, oven-warmed rock on the white-linen table. She nudged me to hold it close to the heart, “start the healing” and begin a “fairy-tale journey through the Swedish forests.”
Across a menu of 12 courses ($150 prix fixe), which Ramiro deftly matches with seven wines ($120 additional), the kitchen produced one eye-popping, jaw-dropping dish after another. The delicate meat of a tail of langoustine from Sweden’s western North Sea coast and a sweet, briny langoustine emulsion coaxed greater complexity from a vibrant Zind-Humbrecht Muscat Goldbert Grand Cru 2013. Many plates were whimsically styled with tree branches, pine cones, lichen or stones.
The arduous drive from Stockholm was forgotten. Enjoying a glass of Sandhi Santa Barbara Chardonnay 2014 while savoring a brilliantly simple dish of celery puree and wild mushrooms from Småland, I felt I had come home.
Southern Sweden native Per-Henrik Mansson lives in Switzerland. His father was born in Småland.
Read the entire 2017 Restaurant Awards package, including the cover story, “Building Identity Through Wine," in the Aug. 31, 2017, issue of Wine Spectator.